The Punishment of Oedipus the King (Oedipus Rex)

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The Punishment of Oedipus the King

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At the end of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, Oedipus, king of Thebes, ends

up banished forever from his kingdom. Additionally, Oedipus physically puts

out his own eyes, for several reasons which will be discussed later. The

question is: Did Oedipus deserve his punishments? There are many factors

that must be considered in answering this, including how Oedipus himself

felt about his situation. His blinding was as much symbolic as it was

physical pain. After all factors have been considered, I think that only

Oedipus’ banishment was the necessary punishment..

It is important to keep in mind the whole basic reasoning for

Oedipus’ search for Laius’ killers: he wished to put an end to a deadly

plague, and that plague would only be stopped when said murderer is killed,

or driven from the land (pp 4-5). Thusly, when it is revealed that Oedipus

himself murdered Laius, then banishment seems to be the only option. Death,

in my mind, is not valid simply because of what it might do to the

kingdom’s people. Even though it seems that Oedipus has not been a

particularly good monarch, in fact his only major accomplishment seems to

be killing the Sphinx all those years ago, having a king put to death could

have serious repercussions on the rest of the kingdom. So in the end, the

only way to cure the plague and keep the kingdom stable seems to be the

banishment of Oedipus. In this case, the question of whether or not he

deserved to be punished seems irrelevant; Oedipus’ only goal was to stop

the plague and by leaving, he has accomplished that goal. Banishment was

the only choice.

But what exactly was Oedipus being punished for? Even after re-

reading the play, this still seems to be a gray area. Incest? Immoral, to

be sure, but Oedipus was obviously ignorant to his actions, and to my

knowledge, in Sophoclean times, there was no written law against it and

therefore no punishment for it. Oedipus’ punishment may have been for

killing Laius, but how could you punish someone for being a victim of fate?

Greeks believed at the time of the play’s writing that a man’s life was ”

woven” by the 3 fates (Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos) and that he was

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